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The Smart City: Preparing for the Imminent Boom of Millennial Workers (Industry Perspective)

Millennials are driving innovation at all levels and in all industries, and they’re seeking out urban life in numbers that distinguish them from all preceding generations.

Here’s an easy question: Where do you live? If you named a city, congratulations – you’re playing an active role in one of the most significant changes to modern human society. 

And you're not alone. If you think your morning commute is already crowded, brace yourself. I live in Long Beach, Long Island, N.Y., and on some days, I can get to New Jersey quicker than I can get to Manhattan. Why is that? Around the world, urbanization is on the rise. According to the United Nations World Urbanization Prospects report, “Urbanization is expected to continue rising in both the more developed and the less developed regions so that by 2050, urban dwellers will likely account for 86 percent of the population – many of them millennials – in the more developed regions, and for 64 percent of that in the less developed regions.” 

A migration of this scale will reshape the physical makeup of our existing populations. By 2050, we can expect at least 37 “Mega Cities” with more than 10 million citizens each. For the unprepared city, population shifts of this magnitude undoubtedly pose a challenge. Pre-existing problems within an urban population like overburdened infrastructure and crime can be exacerbated by rapid expansion; indeed, urban geographers have isolated unregulated urban growth as the key determinant for criminality in cities around the world. Gang violence, income inequality, failure of basic services and high rates of greenhouse gas emissions are all issues specifically associated with urban blight, and threaten to overshadow the potential of these cities without careful governance, management and planning.

But where there are challenges, there are also unmatched opportunities. In some states, a city can be viewed as a state within a state based on the number of constituents on the census. The influx of citizens will bring influence, and it will be cities – not states or regional governments – that are largely responsible for the development of their populations. In both developing and developed nations, city planners and civic leaders will play a greater role than ever before in shaping what innovation, sustainability and social cohesion in the future look like. 

In developing nations, mayors and community leaders will be able to leverage technology to open communication channels with their populace and connect with them on issues impacting their day-to-day lives like never before. Smart cities have been able to leverage widespread Internet connectivity and information communications technology to enable greater social cohesion and mobility, the key factors in closing the digital divide and empowering an entire population.

Creating high-functioning teams is challenging under any circumstance. But when a team crosses boundaries, time zones and cultures, how do you meld individuals' different talents, temperaments and communication styles? Meanwhile, developed cities must adapt to better attract the coveted millennial workforce and drive innovation – all the more important as individual cities grow into hubs of international influence.

Millennials are driving innovation at all levels and in all industries, and they’re seeking out urban life in numbers that distinguish them from all preceding generations. The digitally native generation has a set of urban standards they expect to be met. However they also want culture, they want access, they want on-demand – and they want it all quickly.

To attract more millennials, city planners must invest in energy efficiency; public transportation; open data flow; greater connectivity; on-demand services; and accessible, open communications with their constituents. It's not easy pulling together a group of diverse individuals to work as a team. Barriers abound in the form of major restructuring. But at a time when cities are increasingly relying on cross-functional teams at every level to generate innovative ideas, it's more crucial than ever to tap the fresh thinking that millennials can provide. 

If the demands seem high, so are the rewards.

“Investments in hard and soft technologies are fueling a virtuous cycle by supplying cities with yet more new talent and consolidating their place as hubs of innovation and connectivity,” Robbert Muggah, research director at Brazil's Igarapé Institute, told Foreign Affairs.

Capturing and satisfying the millennial workforce’s needs will be essential for cultivating innovative new business ventures, as well as investments from powerful, more established multinational companies. 

In this urban renaissance, “smart cities” have the potential to be so much more than metropolises of older generations – they’ll be competitive and influential players in the global economy that are simultaneously directly connected to the pulse of their constituents’ needs.

Alphonzo Albright currently serves as the Global Director of Government Solutions and Market Development at Polycom, where he is responsible for supporting government organizations worldwide and for driving government performance by delivering strategic collaboration solutions. Prior to joining Polycom, Alphonzo served as the Deputy Commissioner of Administration and Intelligence for New York
City, which involved overseeing the Office of Administration, including the Office of Information Technology (CIO), Warrant & Intelligence Division, Human Resources, Fiscal Services, Contracts and Procurement, Facilities Management, and Fleet Services. He also previously served as the CIO of the Department of Probation’s Office of Information and Technology.